Urban Consumption

Abundance: Have we reached peak stuff?

Scarcity was for a long time the driver behind economic models. In a future, where business models are build around cycles, growth can not be the primary objective.

The rise of consumption in the West started in the 1820s when shopping became a leisure activity, driven by the industrialization and era of the ‘living-room suite’ (Trentmann, 2016). Now it has become central to our economy and formes our identities.

A remnant from the industrial revolution, the linear economy mindset is mainly driven by overcoming scarcity (Stahel, 2012). Already in the 1980, an abundance of household goods in France could be recognized (Stahel, 2012). Today, most of the western society lives in abundance, using more energy and physical resources monthly, than previous generations during their whole lifetime (Thackara, 2015).

“If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings,” Steve Howard, Sustainability Director, IKEA, 2016 at a ‘The Guardian’ debate (Farrell, 2016)

Clear is, that ‘business-as-usual’ will not lead to a sustainable future, when it is primarily based on growth. John Thackara (2016), author of ‘How To Thrive In The Next Economy’, used an example of a furnishing company in Sweden, which is “(…) the third largest user of wood in the world,”: As long as their business model is based on growth, “the net negative impact of their firm’s activities on the world’s living systems will be greater in the years ahead than it is today.”

For designing sustainable products and services, the team of the Fab City (2017) Global Initiative states, that a systematic deployment will be required not only to economic factors but also social, cultural and environmental aspects have to be taken into account.

Find out more: www.wagnerthomas.org


FabCity (2017) Fab City Prototypes — Designing and making for the real world, medium.com. Available at: https://blog.fab.city/fab-city-prototypes-designing-and-making-for-the-real-world-e97e9b04857 (Accessed: 15 November 2017).

Farrell, S. (2016) We’ve hit peak home furnishings, says Ikea boss, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/18/weve-hit-peak-home-furnishings-says-ikea-boss-consumerism (Accessed: 15 November 2017).

Stahel, W. (2012) The business angle of a circular economy — higher competitiveness, higher resource security and material efficiency. Geneva: The Product-Life Institute. Available at: http://www.rebelalliance.eu/uploads/9/2/9/2/9292963/stahel_the_business_angle_of_a_circular_economy.pdf (Accessed: 15 November 2017).

Thackara, J. (2015). How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today. Thames and Hudson Ltd, New York.

Trentmann, F. (2017) Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First. 1st edn. Penguin.